St. Anthony development beef boots 97 families from their homes for no reason

It wasn't until long into the process, after a trailer park had been cleared out, that St. Anthony let a developer know the city was no longer interested in dense housing.

It wasn't until long into the process, after a trailer park had been cleared out, that St. Anthony let a developer know the city was no longer interested in dense housing.

The Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony closed earlier this summer following its bitterly disputed sale to Wayzata-based developer the Village, and the hard-fought uprooting of 95 homeowners. This week, the Village announced that after all the protests and legal battles, and the suicide of one heartbroken resident, the site will soon reopen as an RV park once more.

That's because on October 10, the St. Anthony City Council dealt a death blow to the Village's redevelopment plans, rejecting its vision of building 712 new units on grounds that it will be too dense.

St. Anthony defines "high density" as 25-40 units per acre. The Village wanted all of its market rate and senior housing units to be built at the maximum 40 per acre, and a separate building of 97 affordable housing units to be at 51.3. However, the City Council decided both rates were far too high, adopting a rejection resolution that the project could have at most just 25 units per acre.

It is "not remotely possible" for the Village to cut density by a whopping 40 percent, says the Village president Brad Hoyt. He blames the council for springing the new limitation on him the very night of their vote, "out of the blue."

“My team has been having meetings with the city for more than two years. Density was never an issue for the city," Hoyt says. "City staff told us they didn’t want to constrain the design and were not imposing any limits, as long as infrastructure needs were met. In fact, we were specifically told, ‘more density was better.’"

"Suddenly, city staff and council are saying 25 units per acre is the maximum density they want to see at the site. If the restrictions now regarding density would have been in place then, we would have walked away. There are 97 families who would still be in their homes.”

St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey confirmed that the city did not express its preference for 25 units per acre prior to October 10. But he says this was because the Village submitted its final proposal too late.

"The council can't make an appropriate decision until it sees the developer's proposal," Casey says. "The developer didn't provide a revised proposal until October 2, so the council made the determination during the public meeting on October 10, after hearing testimony that evening."

However, developers argue that city staffers were long aware of -- and appeared to find reasonable -- their desire for higher density.

In the beginning, city staff asked the Village to estimate the maximum density it would need, so the Village created a preliminary sketch. Staff concluded it had a capacity for 1,000 units.

The Village then came up with a concept plan for 54 units per acre, which the city in its Environmental Assessment Worksheet deemed "fit with the general vision outlined for the property in Comprehensive Plan."

Earlier this year, the city objected that the plan was not well-prepared for flooding, so the Village added a park and underground stormwater storage. When that pushed one building's height up to 14 stories, the public pushed back, and the Village opted instead to purchase more land and spread out the units.

In August, the Village submitted a proposal to the city's Planning Commission, asking to increase density from 40 to 48 units per acre. The commission denied that increase, but made no indication at the time that the Village would actually be expected to slash density down to 25 units per acre.

Had the project been approved, nonprofit developer Aeon would have been put in charge of the 97 affordable housing units on site.

Per a settlement agreement between the Village, Aeon, former Lowry Grove tenant activist Antonia Alvarez, and the Lowry Grove Residents Association, all former mobile park residents would have the opportunity to return to the newly built housing with the assistance of a six-figure donation from the Village.

Hoyt says he never wanted or expected to run a mobile home park, but the St. Anthony City Council didn't leave him a choice. The Village currently has a license for 86 RVs and 97 manufacturered homes with an annual right to renew, so that's what he's running with for now.

"By rejecting our development plans, they denied any economically viable redevelopment on the property. Without a redevelopment option we began exploring all ways to cover carrying costs and to put the property to use. ... At this point, that is our only option.”